Monday, December 7, 2009

Fennel-Dusted Chicken and Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Shallots

Last Friday, our apartment was cold and dark when I came home. I heard the jingle of our dog's tags as she came to the door, and I gave her a blind pat. With the light flicked on, I strapped an apron around my waist in the glow of the kitchen. And from outside, the corner of our first floor place, enclosed by the quiet, early night, shone like a firefly to Brandon and Rosie who would've been driving towards it once I had already lit the burners on the stove.

That evening, I made Fennel-Dusted Chicken with Brown Butter and Capers--my favorite new recipe of the season. As you already know, I love brown butter, but I also love capers. Capers are flower buds plucked from shrubby plants found on the cliff sides of the Mediterranean. I feel like some sort of kitchen nymph serving flower-bud-speckled sauces on my fillets beef or chicken or fish to an audience unsuspecting of the little treasure they're about to eat.

Anyway, this chicken tastes impressive and you can make it in under 30 minutes (well, if you don't have a little baby crawling around to distract you!) The elegant butter sauce is tangy and aromatic with a touch of citrus-sweet. If you can't find ground fennel (I couldn't), just buy the whole fennel seeds. Grab a hammer (rolling pin will not do in this instance), place the fennel in a bag, and pound pound pound on the cutting board. It makes a lot of noise, but does the trick.

I paired the chicken with mashed potatoes with caramelized shallots. When you put these two on the plate, let the mashed potatoes lean into the caper sauce. A little extra butter never hurt a potato...

I kind of make up the potato recipe as I go along, but below are some guidelines. Please note that these are guidelines only.

8 large potatoes (white or russet) cleaned, mostly peeled, and cut in half or thirds depending on size
4 tablespoons of butter (or more)
3-4 shallots, thinly sliced
Olive oil as needed
1/2 cup of buttermilk
1/2 cup of milk, plus more as needed
salt and freshly ground pepper
kosher salt
(other yummy additions are freshly grated parmesan cheese and sour cream)

Boil a large pot of water with plenty of salt. Add potatoes to the water and boil until they can be easily pierced with a fork--about 20 minutes for big potatoes.

While potatoes are boiling, bring some olive oil (about 2 tablespoons) in a small skillet to medium heat. Add shallots, decreasing heat if necessary. Season with a little kosher salt. Saute for 15 - 20 minutes until deep golden in color. Remove from heat.

Preheat broiler with rack in the middle or upper third of the oven.

Drain potatoes and mash by hand with a potato masher, until the pot of potatoes is broken up. Add butter, mashing to encourage it to melt. Add buttermilk, mashing a little more. (If adding cheese or sour cream, add here.) Then add enough milk to reach your desired consistency, mashing a little as you go. With a slotted spoon, remove the shallots from the oil and add them to the potatoes, folding them in with a spoon. Season with salt and pepper.

Spoon potatoes into a ceramic baking dish. Make six swirls in the top of the potatoes, leaving pools for butter. Cut pats of butter and place in the empty pools. Broil for a few minutes until some of the swirled peaks begin to brown and the butter has melted.

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